Point of View Columns

Paralyzed Veterans of America – Time for Accountability

I recently had the privilege and honor to be the master of ceremonies for the Paralyzed Veterans of America – www.pva.org – 2017 Partners Conference in New York City. I could not help but admire the courage, perseverance and strength of spirit of the men and women who attended – men and women who had overcome heartbreaking bodily damage – and the men, women and children who provide love, support and comfort to paralyzed veterans every day of the month, every month of the year, year after year.

During course of this daylong event, I could not help but reflect on the decidedly mixed history of this country and its veterans. After the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War America’s first veterans had to threaten the new Congress in making demands for back pay and benefits. The threats were so real that those first members of Congress fled the new capital of Philadelphia in order to escape the wrath of the disgruntled first warriors of the Republic.

Indeed, after World War I, soldiers of the United States Army led by Douglas MacArthur shot and killed veterans who had the temerity to march to Washington, D.C. demanding relief and support and just compensation for their sacrifice. This took place in 1932 as the United States government turned its back on the men who had fought for this country.

Further reflection focused on the fact that the G.I. Bill and other post World War II benefits were certainly a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, despite all the Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Veterans Day rhetoric that is embedded in American culture, a cabinet level Department of Veterans Affairs was not established until 1989, 213 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

What I learned during the PVA conference is that the convoluted and dysfunctional relationship between America and its veterans, particularly its wounded veterans continues to this day. Nevertheless, from President Trump to each and every Teapublican member of the so-call Freedom Caucus in Congress to all the leaders of the Democratic Party – all are more than willing to put their hands over their heart as the “Star Spangled Banner” is played before a ballgame or convention and then sit down and enjoy the festivities while injustice rains on the heads of the men and women who have suffered and sacrificed for this country.

This is not about policy arguments regarding the righteousness of any war or military action. This is about justice and compassion and true honor being afforded to the men and women who fought and died/survived while most Americans stay at home and channel surf from battle footage to the latest sitcom.

Clearly it is past time to hold the U.S. government and its citizens accountable. How is it possible that citizens elect representatives who propose to cut the funding for the National Institute of Health which is engaged in cutting edge research that will allow some paralyzed veterans to walk again? It is time for accountability.

What right does any member of Congress have to deny paralyzed and wounded veterans benefits that include in vitro fertilization so that they can enjoy the warmth and comfort of children and a family? It is time for accountability.

How can there be six month delays in granting benefits and service at V.A. hospitals when we live in a country where Amazon can deliver damn near anything we need in a day? It is time for accountability.

And what President or Member of Congress can dare speak about any future military action in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea or anyplace on this planet without first mending promises to too many veterans that have already been broken? It is time for accountability.

It is a true national shame that paralyzed and wounded veterans should suffer in a country that grants lifetime pensions to one term members of Congress and incredible tax breaks to the incredibly wealthy. It is time for accountability.

Point of View Columns

It’s That Vision Thing

Too many people have been treating the presidential debates like some kind of “American Idol” episode where the contestant with the best performance wins. This is particularly troubling when there is an enormous difference in the vision being presented by President Obama and Governor Romney. The Romney/Ryan team is striving mightily to distract the public from their ultimate vision and that is understandable considering the very bleak future that it encompasses.

Mitt Romney has spent a lot of time walking back his infamous trashing of 47% of Americans by claiming that the statement was simply a regretful slip of the tongue. He has gone on to proclaim that his lifelong demonstration of compassion for the less fortunate should erase his momentary poor choice of words.

While Mitt Romney is a child of privilege, he does not possess a free pass on whatever he says. His 47% diatribe described a political strategy and a personal philosophy that was something more than a Rick Perry “oops” moment. Mr. Romney clearly stated that the 47% of the country that does not pay federal tax “has no interest in taking personal responsibility”.

Mr. Romney can moonwalk all he wants, but there are too many veterans, retired social security recipients and working poor who will not be satisfied with the thin gruel of apology that he is serving up. And Mr. Romney insults the intelligence of all of us if he expects us to believe that when he says that he “can’t worry about” that 47% that he was only describing a political strategy in an inelegant fashion.

But what is more important than the debate reviews or Mr. Romney’s 47% two-step is the vision that the Romney-Ryan team is serving up to the American people. A vision of smaller government and lower taxes for the wealthy looks good on paper, but it doesn’t play out so well in real life.

Various non-partisan research groups have concluded that the budget and tax plan envisioned by Paul Ryan and substantially endorsed by Mitt Romney would indeed result in federal tax increases for middle class Americans. What also must be noted that the reduction of federal government spending will result in fewer federal dollars for state and local governments.

That will, of necessity, require states and localities to cut vital services (not just Big Bird). A further consequence of this plan will be state and local tax increases not only for middle class Americans, but for virtually all Americans.

And, in shrinking the size of government, Mr. Romney engaged in a bit of rhetorical prestidigitation by focusing on one set of initials, PBS, as a target of his budget cutting. Some people may have shared a laugh with Mitt Romney targeting Big Bird, after all, how important could Big Bird be?

The answer is that Big Bird and Sesame Street and PBS are pretty damn important. Indeed, for children who do not dwell in the environs of the 1% or even Romney’s 53%, Sesame Street can be the only source of pre-school education. Considering that the Romney-Ryan vision will also eviscerate Head Start and other educational assistance programs, there is nothing funny about targeting PBS.

But Mitt Romney sought to turn attention away from other initialed, federally-funded programs that would be eliminated or shrunk to drowning size in Grover Norquist’s budget. Some of the initials – EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency which has been on the frontlines protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink; FDA – the Food and Drug Administration which has guaranteed the cleanliness of the food chain in this country; CDC – the Center for Disease Control which is Ground Zero in the fight against infectious diseases and epidemics which could easily become a part of the American way of life without proper, and well-funded, efforts by CDC.

The list of agencies and programs that would be targeted as a result of the Romney-Ryan budget is gruesome in its length. And as far as vision is concerned, does anyone think that programs that created the Hoover Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the G.I. Bill, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security could ever see the light of day in the Romney-Ryan vision?

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the Teapublicans are quite clear on this point. The answer is a resounding “No”, and that is not a misstatement.

Point of View Columns

Mitt Romney and the Myth of the Self Made Man

Recently President Obama pointed out in a speech that American businesses are not successful on their own and that they owe their success to the support and services provided by government and the American people. Proving once again that history, common sense and statistics have no place in his political rhetoric, Mitt Romney has responded by trying to promote the Myth of the Self Made Man.

The Koch brothers, Senator Jim DeMint, Grover Norquist, Congressman Paul Ryan and all of the denizens of the right wing of the right wing of the Teapublican Party loudly proclaim their goal of shrinking government, claiming that government gets in the way of business, job creation and the freedom of the American people.

In continuing his efforts to pole dance his way to the Teapublican nomination, Mitt Romney has contorted his personal narrative in order to win favor with the insatiable conservative wing of his party. And now, as he pursues this quixotic mission he has decided to twist the truth, obliterate the facts and defy common sense.

That President Obama’s statement referring to business relying on the support and services of the American government should be even remotely controversial is simply further proof of the core Teapublican ideology – “Obama Bad. Not Obama Good.” This not so insightful philosophy seems to inform Mitt Romney’s latest attack on President Obama.

It is difficult to imagine that a successful businessman like Mitt Romney would seriously think that a business could prosper in a community where there were no police, sanitation or fire services. Even though a good part of Mr. Romney’s business acumen lies with acquiring and denuding businesses and then selling off the scraps, one would think that even he would understand this elemental fact.

Mr. Romney could take time off from sending love notes to his money stashed away in faraway places like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands and ask a businessman in Trenton or a businesswoman in Detroit what it is like to try and run a company when basic municipal services have disappeared and government has shrunk to a size that it can be drowned in a bathtub – to quote Grover Norquist’s timeless phrase.

If he could stop thinking about his tax returns he might read about how Steve Jobs, an entrepreneur that he cites as being independent of government, went to public school. He might also take a moment to reflect that almost all of the American employees of Apple spent some time in public school.

And if Mr. Romney is aspiring to be president he should know that almost all of the American employees of Apple who attended college went to an institution that received federal funds for research, construction and student loans. And the same story is true at companies from Microsoft to General Motors and any other business you might care to name.

It is true that businesses and their owners pay taxes. But is there anyone who would seriously argue that dollar for dollar American businesses get the best value for their tax dollars? The interstate highway system, the clean water system and the national power grid are pretty expensive items that provide incredible value to the business environment in this country. Even ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers would have to think twice about paying for the infrastructure that supports their enterprises dollar for dollar.

Historically, it was government financing that provided the resources that resulted in the construction of the transcontinental railroad which literally transformed this country and created a truly united United States. Countless fortunes were made from this single government investment as the heirs of Leland Stanford and alumni of Stanford University will attest.

More recently, it was the government that created the G.I. Bill which in turn permitted millions of returning World War II veterans (my father included) to attend college and become part of the middle class which has been the foun.dation for this country’s economic progress for over a half century. From General Electric to the general store on the corner, millions of American businesses and their owners and executives literally “owe” their success to government services and support.

It is inconceivable that anyone could seriously argue that government (federal, state and local) and the services that it provides has not been a full partner in the success of American business. And it is quite telling that Mitt Romney would try to put forward this myth of the self made man.

Mitt Romney may be a self made man but he didn’t do a very good job. He left out common sense and included an aversion to the truth

Point of View Columns

Save the Date!

As the New Year begins all of us note certain dates on the calendar – weddings, graduation dates, that very special vacation that you have been planning for years. There is one more date that we all need to remember – November 6th.

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of the upcoming presidential election along with all the Congressional, state and local elections that will be taking place throughout the United States. The roaring surge of nihilism that is the Koch-funded Tea Party movement is poised to turn the United States into another country.

Instead of a country where opportunity is a right, the right wing of the right wing seeks to turn opportunity into a privilege for the very few that can afford it. On the Planet Tea Party quality education, universal healthcare, decent housing and a better way of life belong to the few who have no interest, desire or obligation to help the many.

To those who believe that I am giving voice to overreaction I extend an invitation to consider the facts. The current Republican presidential contest features candidates who have unanimously swallowed Grover Norquist’s poison pill call the no-tax pledge. Any president who begins consideration of this country’s challenges with an absolute commitment not to raise taxes under any circumstances dooms not only the poor, the needy and the helpless.

The presidential implementation of the no-tax pledge will absolutely result in the evisceration of services that benefit more than 99% of the people of this country. From dredging yacht basins to food stamps to farm subsidies to college loans American men, women and children will feel the pain.

The Republican playbook has only two plays. One is that President Obama is a failure and must be replaced at all costs and clearly by anyone who has a pulse. The salvation of the automobile industry, the historic attempt to finally reform the financial services industry, the introduction of universal healthcare, the withdrawal of troops from the Bush-Cheney bloodbath in Iraq and the demolition of the Al Qaeda leadership including the death of Osama bin Laden are all conveniently ignored by the Party of No.

The (only) other play is to demonize “big government” and to portray the federal government as the “enemy”. It is an odd and counterintuitive play since most members of the G.O.Tea Party define themselves as middle class. It is odd and counterintuitive since modern American history is quite clear in crediting the creation of the middle class to major federal programs.

Perhaps someone should tap the fake-historian Newt Gingrich on the shoulder and ask him to remind his fellow political dwarfs that the G.I. Bill, the national high way program, federal student loan programs, the Small Business Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Veterans Housing bill, the Civil Rights bill are all responsible for the existence of a true middle class in this country.

Indeed, if it were not for the Rural Electrification Administration of the 1930’s (another devious scheme of big government) most residents of the so-called red states might still be reading by kerosene lanterns.

It is pretty clear that all of the historic legislation referred to would not, and could not be passed by the current Congress due to the boulder-brained G.O.Tea Party zealots who would have us believe that the government that has provided the platform for such an advanced way of life is somehow wrong. Of course, their dirty little secret is that they simply do not wish to pay the bill for everyone to have access and opportunity and somehow believe that they can live in their gated communities, sending their children to private schools while working on guarded corporate “campuses” while the rest of the country goes to hell in a hand basket.

Aside from the heartlessness that is the touchstone of this philosophy it is also pretty stupid. One would think that if they are not watching CNN the Tea Party zealots might see stories on Fox News that have shown unrest and turmoil in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America – unrest and turmoil that arises when too many people feel that the deck is stacked and that there is no hope of opportunity.

Mitt Romney made his millions buying companies, selling off their assets and laying off their workers. It worked fine for him and his family.

Mitt Romney may not be the G.O.Tea Party nominee, but the Romney story is the narrative that is presented as the template for the new America.

Don’t forget November 6th!

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 30, 2011

The year moves on inexorably and Herman Cain (“Herb Cain” on the Planet Palin) has boldly declared that black Americans are “brainwashed” and should consider joining the Republican Tea Party. One has to wonder, what is in that tea he’s drinking? Meanwhile, one G.O.Tea Party candidate after another makes the pilgrimage to New York to meet with Donald Trump – what’s up with that? Didn’t he leave the national stage accompanied by hoots and catcalls several months ago? And somewhere in the news there’s a continuing story of over a dozen Americans dying of the food borne illness Listeria with no end in sight. Yet it is the G.O.Tea Party that has proposed cutting the budget of the Food and Drug Administration. Bon appétit!

Herman Cain’s Dirty Laundry

You have to hand it to the G.O.Tea Party when it comes to comedy. I don’t know which was funnier this week, Sarah Palin referring to “Herb Cain” as the flavor of the week or Herman Cain claiming that black Americans are brainwashed into not considering the Republican Party.

I must confess that I was not aware that Mr. Cain, in addition to parlaying an ongoing ethnic slur into a corporate pizza empire had a flair for comedy. Or perhaps he is suffering from brain shrinkage after going through the right wing of the right wing washing machine.

Of course there is nothing funny about the confederate flags and racially offensive posters that flourished during the early days of the Tea Party (please keep in mind that the “early days” were last year). The fact that some of the leadership of the Tea Party is sufficiently media savvy to dissuade their followers from such overtly racist expressions has not persuaded most black Americans that the hearts of the Tea Partiers have changed.

Aside from many black Americans being a bit touchy when it comes to overwhelmingly white crowds carrying nooses, confederate flags and pictures of the black President of the United States photo shopped with a bone through his nose, the hallmark of the G.O.Tea Party is to reduce the role of government in the lives of Americans.
Clearly one of the prerequisites for Tea Party membership is amnesia as there are very few Americans alive who have not benefited from the role of government in their lives – fathers and grandfathers who went to college via the G.I. Bill is just one example – and are willing to believe that the economy, infrastructure and institutions of this country the result of plain, old hard work.

Black Americans by and large have not indulged in this amnesiac fantasy. The federal government has established and safeguarded rights and opportunities that would simply not exist if it were left up the states and individual communities.
The benefits from government are not limited to welfare and food stamps – federal housing programs have transformed urban areas, federal support for historically black colleges and universities has changes the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women and the list goes on.

Herman Cain must be kidding if he thinks that the aversion of black voters to the Tea Party is based on “brainwashing”. It is based on seeing the G.O.Tea Party for what it is. Perhaps it is Herman Cain who has come through the wash cycle.

The Trump Pilgrimage

Incredibly, one Republican presidential candidate after another flies to New York City in order to have an audience with………..Donald Trump? One day it’s Rodeo Rick Perry, then Sarah “Mama Grizzly” Palin and Herman (or is it Herb?) Cain is due early next week.

Would they be asking Mr. Trump about his solutions for the economy? His multiple business bankruptcies don’t seem to be useful strategies for the federal government. Certainly his ability to degrade the public discourse through his hurling “birther” mud at President Obama doesn’t seem like much of a reason to warrant these pilgrimages.

If these G.O.Tea Party candidates believe that being seen with a living, breathing punch line boosts their electoral prospects, they are making a very clear statement about their judgment. They have bypassed sublime and gone straight to ridiculous.

Tea and Listeria?

Sadly, during the past week over a dozen Americans have died from listeria, a food-borne illness. This time the culprit seems to be cantaloupes, but despite the best efforts of the Food and Drug Administration, thousands of Americans die from the food that they consume.

Amazingly, the G.O.Tea Party members of Congress have proposed to reduce the funding for the Food and Drug Administration. In the universe of the right wing of the right wing, the FDA represents the kind of government interference in the private sector that should be reduced, until it can be eliminated.

Over 105 years ago Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle”, detailing abuses in the food industry. Those details so horrified the nation that the regulation of food began on a national scale, culminating in the FDA, along with local and state initiatives.

Perhaps “The Jungle” should be required reading for the G.O.Tea Party.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

The Big Frame Up

As this column is being written Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services cut its outlook on the United States to negative, warning that the U.S. fiscal profile may become weaker than that of other major countries if the budget deficit cannot be “tamed”. This bit of news raises the specter of the credit rating of the United States being downgraded from Triple-A.

By the time you read this column the “budget hawks” will be circling and preparing to swoop down with the only “solution” to the budget deficit – too much spending on social services, infrastructure and investment in the future of this country. This “solution” would cripple this country and deface its future far more than any credit rating downgrade by a discredited credit agency but that is not how the discussion will be framed – it’s a frame up.

Keep in mind that Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services is the same S&P that routinely gave favorable ratings to the noxious and toxic mortgage related bonds peddled by Wall Street firms. Those would be the same Wall Street firms that successfully bet against the economy of this country and reaped billions when the economy crashed. And S&P was more than an enabler; it has been a willing co-conspirator in the fleecing of investors from around the world.

That S&P has any credibility in the current debate regarding the United States budget and its deficit borders on the absurd. The fact that S&P alumni are not standing in a lunch line in orange jumpsuits in a federal facility is a testament to how people can benefit from the Big Lie.

Meanwhile the budget hawks will attack with this latest report from S&P grasped firmly in their talons. Their “solution” will be that it is necessary to cut expenditures and the cut taxes. Whether it is Planned Parenthood or NPR or assistance for homeless veterans, the budget hawks will demand that a cleaver be wielded and that all expenditures be put “on the table”.

Increased taxes will not be “on the table” of the budget hawks. Increasing revenue to government is anathema as far as they are concerned and any solution that calls for increased taxes is considered unworthy of discussion and is not subject to negotiation.

It is at times like this that an historical perspective is useful. Using the so-called philosophy of the budget hawks and the G.O.Tea Party, the additional governmental expenditures that helped to build the transcontinental railroad and the Panama Canal would have been rejected, thereby retarding the progress of this country in countless ways.

This would be, of course, very similar to the current cutting of the federal budget to eliminate funding for high speed rail and the expansion and improvement of the interstate highway system.
If the pseudo-philosophy of the G.O.Tea Party was employed in the past, the large governmental expenditures that literally saved the lives of the grandparents of their members – expenditures for the WPA, Social Security, the CCC, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Hoover Dam never would have been made.

It is impossible to imagine Michelle Bachman supporting the governmental expenditures that funded the G.I. Bill and changed the lives of tens of millions of Americans. Clearly Rand Paul would not have supported the creation of tax revenues that resulted in the NASA space program that accelerated technological advancement in this country, creating the environment for the advancement of personal computers and the internet.

And now here comes the big frame up. S&P, the handmaiden and enabler of Wall Street makes a pronouncement that unless the budget is “tamed” the credit rating of the United States will be downgraded. Wall Street firms and major corporations that have never been enamored of taxes of any kind (e.g. General Electric paying NO taxes on billions of dollars of revenue and profit) are financial supporters of the G.O.Tea Party.

The G.O.Tea Party, waving a cash-stained and morally tattered banner of patriotism will parade on Capitol Hill claiming that “taming” the budget is a national priority and that it can only be “tamed” by cutting the budget. Once again, no new taxes can even be considered.

This bit of bamboozling is so transparent and so barren of subterfuge it is a wonder that anyone is taking it seriously. But logic has been cast aside and we are faced with a framed up debate on how to cut a budget that has increased in part because the population of this country is now one third of a billion people.

The budget has increased in part because services for the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the young and the homeless are now part of the national rationale for a civil and compassionate society. The deficit has increased in large part because of mindless wars, irrational tax cuts and an engineered collapse of the national economy that almost worked.

If the truth is supposed to set us free it would seem that lies are meant to entrap and enslave. The big frame up has to be seen for what it is. In this instance time is not our friend.

Point of View Columns

A New York State of Mind

As you are reading this column the New York State legislature will have passed a budget that contains over $10 billion in spending cuts. The budget largely reflects proposals from recently elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and it appears that the New York budget scenario is being played out in state capitals across the country.

A few facts – Governor Cuomo is the son of the historically liberal former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and worked for the historically progressive former President Bill Clinton as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He was elected as the progressive alternative and antidote to the toxic right wing of the right wing gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano.

The public in New York and throughout the country has understood that local, state and federal budgets are in need of reformation and restructuring. The damage wrought by the great economic collapse of 2008 cannot be overstated.

Years of treating taxation as punishment instead of part of the price that all people (and corporations) pay for living in a civil society has created unsustainable imbalances that have to be rectified.

The turning point in these fiscal discussions has been focused upon whether these budget battles are going to be about dollars and sense or will they be about reforming the social and political landscape in this country. There are those who are willing to pursue a prudent social services agenda while also being fiscally prudent.

And then there are those who are willing to use the public sector fiscal crisis as a Trojan horse that will permit entry inside the gates built by a century of progressive reform so that they can begin to dismantle the safety nets for all citizens.
The New York state budget is a case in point.

Governor Cuomo and the legislature have determined that no tax increases are possible. Indeed, in the new budget any New York citizen who makes over $200,000 per year will get a tax cut. Meanwhile statewide aid for education will be cut by $1.25 billion and Medicaid benefits will be cut by $2.8 billion.

And certainly, and most clearly, the citizens of New York who earn the least, who own the least and who control the least will be the ones who will bear the brunt of these budget cuts.

This scenario is being replayed from Wisconsin to California to Washington, D.C. The balanced budget mantra is overlaid with the themes of reducing the tax obligations of the wealthiest Americans (and corporations) and reducing the services provided to citizens, especially the citizens with the fewest resources and the greatest need.

There is an empty and heartless meanness to this approach that transcends the numbers and figures that are in a budget discussion. The suggestion that it somehow makes sense that a corporate behemoth like General Electric has a final tax bill of zero while Headstart programs are closed and veterans’ benefits are cut is difficult to comprehend.

Just as no one is entitled to great wealth, no one is entitled to unnecessary hardship and misery – particularly in a country with the highest standard of living in the history of the Planet Earth.

The sense of community that brings citizens together into a caring and cohesive entity is clearly fraying. Perhaps this is attributable to the fact that the sense of shared obligation has been diluted to a point that it is hardly noticeable.

Spending has been supported at the local, state and federal level for everything from football stadiums to bridges to nowhere and the taxation consequences have been largely deferred or ignored.

As is the case for every celebration, there is a bill that has to be paid. It would seem logical, fair and patriotic that those who have benefited the most from American society would have to pay their fair share of the cost of that society.

The constant caterwauling about “no new taxes” might make sense in some other circumstance, but not during a time of crisis. That point seems to be lost upon those who see taxes as punitive and view cutting social services as the only logical choice.

Americans who lived through the Great Depression and World War II learned about shared responsibility and common sacrifice out of necessity. And out of that necessity was born the G.I. Bill and the beginning of the largest middle class expansion in world history up to that point.

That sense of shared responsibility and common sacrifice resulted in everything from the national highway initiative to the Great Society to landmark civil rights bills.

If you wonder if any of those bills would pass today you only need to look at the scorched earth that resulted from the debate and passage of the recent healthcare bill and you will have your answer.

Blanche Dubois was probably wrong to depend on the kindness of strangers. But I do believe that Americans should be able to depend on the compassion and concern of their fellow citizens.